I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday about gardening. She approached me regarding her yard and the care she needed to give to it. She expressed few thoughts and frustrations that she had with gardening and basic plant knowledge. Her need was simple instructions on how to take care of her yard, and also how to make it more attractive yet functional. I got a bit anxious and felt I needed to teach her everything I have learned so far, because I remember very clear, what it was like to have no idea where to begin without getting overwhelmed. I promised her, I would write and share everything I have learned along the way (but not in one blog 😉 ) about basic horticulture, gardening and landscaping. I assured her that I am NO expert in the matter (or any matter), and that half the time I have done and still do everything the experts teach us not to do, but that has worked for me.
How It all Started
Decades ago when I started trying to figure out my own garden and landscaping, I relied a lot on my husband’s help and instructions. I felt he should know better than me, because he was a farm boy (grew up on a dairy farm) and I was just a city girl (that had never played in the dirt). My abilities were pretty sad in the matter and I am afraid my in-laws probably got worried ;-). The one positive thing I had going for me in my own backyard, was that I loved and still LOVE flowers. Who doesn’t love flowers? They smell good, they look good and they bring such a brightness with them. Unfortunately I discovered, that only loving them was not enough. I bet I can make a list on “how to kill a plant” better than “how to keep a plant alive”. Like I told my good friend yesterday, the best teacher is experience. I don’t think many people like to learn the hard way, I know I don’t! But for me it appears that learning-by-doing has been the best teacher.
Two-three decades ago if I wanted to learn about something I actually had to go to a library and check out a book. At the time I was a mother of three young children, and that was a chore in of its own (we are talking about public transportation here). Knowledge was really not at our fingertips. It was available, but not by a click of a button (now we don’t even need to click, we just ask – “Hey Google” , I think that’s what my grand kids say). So up until this Century I couldn’t easily just Google words like, Botany, Horticulture or the meaning of Herbaceous Plants. Now I can, and I feel pretty smart about it too. But even with the internet being full of information, sometimes the explanation out there are not the easiest and most simple. So I hope i can share some simplified definitions of few basic vocabulary –
It’s the scientific study of every aspect of living plants. All the classifications, genetics and structure of each plant.
It’s the actual fun part of gardening!! It’s the art and science of taking care of a garden and plants. Cultivating and using proper methods to grow and manage healthy plants.
These are plants that are soft and have no hard or woody tissues. These plants are usually (not always) the plants that completely die down during winter and then pop back up when Spring comes around.
Plants that have woody stems. Usually bushes, vines and trees. Everything that does not die down to the ground at the end of a growing season.
These are the plants that lose their leaves every year. During Fall it becomes obvious which plants and trees are deciduous. Some examples are, the burning bush, butterfly bush, the Oak tree and so on.
These stay green year long and don’t lose their leaves during winter. For example Pine trees, the Spruce trees, the Fir, the Thuja and the Cypress.
These are plants that only survive for one year. Their life cycle is usually from Spring to Fall (depending on the climate of course – they can’t handle frost). Few ex. Begonia, Petunia, Cosmos and Geraniums.
These are plants that live a minimum of three years. They die down when frost hits and they grow back up in the Spring. They bloom year after year, and usually get bigger each year until it reaches to its fullest potential. (see my blog on my favorite perennials)
This type of plant is not as common as annuals and perennials. These plants have a life cycle of two years. First year you will see the leaves and second year you will get the fruit or flower. Ex, Asparagus, Sweet William, Hollyhock and Foxglove.
A Variety of plant refers to a certain species that grow in the wild or naturally in the nature. They are true to their nature and humans have not changed its nature.
This means that humans have changed its characteristics from its natural state. So basically a Variety that has been cultivated and changed of its origin. Actually most of us probably have mainly cultivated varieties in our gardens rather than pure Varieties. The word Cultivar is a word made up from two words = cultivated variety (did I confuse you yet?).
This is when plant breeders take two different plants and cross pollinate them, to intentionally create a new plant. This plant becomes the baby of two parents. This method is used to create stronger and better plants. This is different than cross pollination in the nature which is a natural process.
Bulb flower is an organ that stores underground. It has short stems and fleshy leaves. Tulips, daffodils, onions, garlic these are some examples of bulbs
Is the place in your yard where you grow pretty things that you can enjoy or eat.
Is the total area that your home sits on, where you can play and plant a garden in.
Monocots, Dicots, Species Names, Leaf Anatomy, Pollination, Fertilization, Photosynthesis, Respiration and so on. There is a world full of plant science. The more I learn the more I feel and realize I don’t know much. The information is endless. The last thing I want is to create frustration or stress (kind of like when someone tries to teach me computer stuff and I want to scream – ENOUGH!!!)
Why All This Information?
So why do I need to know all this? Well I have found that the more I know about plants, the easier it is for me to diagnose problems or notice the similar behaviors of the plants. But there is an even simpler explanation to it all, and that is what I told my friend, when I understand basic plant information it becomes easier with maintenance and choices. Let me explain before you get bored. As mentioned before, I tried to grow flowers, trees, bushes and a vegetable garden but I always managed to kill them. I would buy a small plant from a nursery and could not figure out why some flowers would just die after six months and never come back up at all, where other plants would just pop back up. I did not understand why some would take over my yard, while other flowers and plants stayed pretty and didn’t make a big fuss of themselves. And all those frustrations that I experienced myself, I have heard same stories from friends, family and neighbors for the past decade.
There are no secrets in gardening, your neighbor probably has the same frustrations, so instead stop and smell the roses (I don’t care if they look pathetic – just stop and enjoy them). Take a deep breath and make a mental inventory (if it’s too cold outside) or take a walk in your yard and ask your garden, “what do I love about you? What small (or major) changes do I need to make in order for me to feel comfortable with what I have been blessed with?” Just remember, we are all our own masters in our gardens, so let’s create individual master pieces.